Everybody knows the feeling of waiting for the new model or version of a product although sometimes it's worse, as my father used to say "progress isn't always forward, sometimes one step forward and then two steps back" at the time I always thought the next or latest version was going to be always better. As I have matured I have realised this time and time again and have had quite a few surprises and disappointments take Windows XP great but Windows Vista not even slightly better, and how about some cars say HZ Holden or VB Commodore, and iPhone the 5 verses the 6 it's to big, we could go on but I won't because we are talking motorcycles.
So let's start on a few British machines first,
BSA A10 vs A65, man was that a mistake horrible smooth flow engine that looked like a grape on a watermelon. And what about the magnificent singles Goldstars and B31-33 versions all dropped from the range the BSA singles made after this period were "fragile"to say the least.
Norton was renowned as the unapproachable and the worlds best Roadholder with a "Featherbed"frame till they built the "rubber bed" isolastic frame but at least they stopped the vibes and the engine reliability improved it turned into the only motorcycle that tank slaps on a straight road at 60 klm, you don't believe me ride one with a passenger and at 60 klms and lift your hands off the handlebars slightly and roll the throttle off slowly the wobble starts from the back end first it's even worse on Interstate versions.
Then onto Triumph with beautiful pre-units that didn't handle, some rigid models fitted with the notorious Spring Wheel (I own one) and then the unsupported swing arm spindle on the 1954-62 frames, still in 1963 things got better and after 1966 frame geometry improved along with better brakes and forks in 1968 things were great, roll on till 1970 they couldn't build enough. Disaster in 1971 for both BSA and Triumph with the oil in frame versions, touted to be cheaper and lighter to produce only problem was they rose in price by $400 and looked uglier than a "hatful of arseholes" it took till 1973 to make the product half acceptable when the T140V sold to the buyers. What about the Trident I hear you ask, well the T150T versions with "Ray-gun" mufflers were not liked at all when they were first made with the Americans beating the breadbox tank and mufflers with sledge hammers before heaving the parts in a skip bin to replace the parts with 650 spares. Triumph came out with a "beauty kit" in late 1970 that made it look like a Bonneville. Light was in the tunnel in 1972 with the X-75 Hurricane but it hardly lasted but one year the Trident stoically soldiered on after the BSA R3 version was canned in 1972 the T150V was popular but it was soon short lived with the T160V. Vividly I remember eagerly uncrating the first model in Australia, man was I dissolutioned it was heavier with a sloppy left hand gearchange and Mickey Mouse instrument binnacle odd non-de script fuel tank, and it was slower to boot. The most disheartening thing was the extra 23 T150V versions we had in stock were bought back by NVT to be sold back in Britain as nobody wanted the new T160V models!
BMW were making beautiful machines in 1969 they were built by engineers, but in 1971 out came the R50/5,R60/5,R75/5 models built by accountants, they were taller, boasted electric start, improved Bosch alternator and a arc welded frame it was shunned by traditional BMW owners who hated all of the new variants and the new multi-coloured versions with a passion as BMW's were always black with white lines or white with black line work. The new short wheel base model handled like a "camel with a broken back" this wasn't helped till the new versions the /6 versions came out two years later. The thing that capped it off was BMW said if a sidecar was fitted to the frame it voided the warranty. BMW had highlights with R90S/R100S and RS/RT models but building the "brick" and the "brick bat"four and triple killed off a lot of the good vibes. BMW certainly alienated their customers with the phasing out of the airheads and now build a motorcycle that you go into a garage with the lights off in the dark to start as it's so ugly you don't want to look at it!
Ducati were making fragile singles like BSA were, as a matter of fact the only advantage for the BSA was it was cheaper, so in 1971 it was all to change with the introduction of 750 GT man that was a monumental moment, they were fast, handled, stopped and looked reasonably good, the result was that they sold heaps and were the same price as a Triumph 750 Bonneville. So what went wrong here, poor electrics and fragile bottom ends along with a cheap and nasty fibreglass fuel tank and bad painting and plating they sold not as good as they could have. Meanwhile 1974 came with the 750SS round case it sold like blazes, but the 860GT and 860 GTL was the ugliest bike that had two wheels fitted, meanwhile the singles were gone but a horrible parallel twin was the icing on the cake. In 1976 the 900SS was emasculated and continued each year till the last Desmo versions. It took some time into the nineties till they got on top of there game.
Laverda were battling building big and ugly twins they were slower than Ducati's and were not popular being labeled as large Honda Dreams as that what the engine looked a bit like, then out came the "Blotta" sorry Jotta it was listed as the first bike to become the worlds fastest motorcycle since the Vincent. So why didn't it sell 140-150 MPH was not to be sneezed at, it was expensive, thirsty and had shifting problems as well as it ate rear chains at the time as no "O" ring chains were invented, and pricey spares problems were in production they never were well financed to produce large quantities of motorcycles so not a lot sold worldwide.
Moto-Gutless sorry Guzzi the poor mans Ducati was another ugly Italian and the first V7 the ugliest they had copied the 1940 840 Indian military motorcycle with shaft drive and V- twin transversed across the frame. Things improved and the 750S was popular and then bang out came the LeMans in red and orange it was thirsty beast with a weak diff and 20 cent gearchange springs that like to break and took a day to fit, to top it off the 750 SS Ducati ate it for lunch, the later versions progressively got uglier and heavier and more expensive
The Japanese make good product yes, but not always let's look at Suzuki avid two stroke builders making GT 250 that cracked right heads but not left hand ones, moved onto Ram-Air versions that fixed the heads but the instruments were un-readable after 6 months as the face was plastic and "grazed" in the Aussie sun. The Suzuki 500 Cobra was a fire breather but the replacement T500 was'nt then came the expensive Rotary the bike that nearly broke the company.
Honda was busy building good little bikes then came the Dreams followed by the CB250/CB350 cam wearing models introduced with the torsion bar CB 450 Black Bomber it was expensive to manufacture and sold well till the CB 750 Four changed the world, but it had average brakes, handled badly and broke rear chains and wore out cam tensioners but sold very well and progressively got worse till 1976 when the last sold to be replaced by worse BolDor versions and even worse VF 750 models the model that made the dealers cry!
Yamaha built motorcycles that were all fast two strokes till they decided to copy a Triumph the engine was brilliant but the frame was evil and took years to sort out in the end Triumphs chief roadtester and production racer Percy Tait was hired and fixed the problem a XS500 was reasonable but the 750 twin had them shipping complete engines to Australia under warranty, the eventual XS 750 triple touted as the new Vincent didn't work out, although the XT500 and SR 500 saved there bacon
Kawasaki bought Maruso and continued with the BSA copied A10 & that they (BSA) had stupidly stopped production to make the A65 the rest of the range were leading two strokes that went like the "clappers" and handled even worse than a Norton with worn out isolastics. Times changed with the New York Steak Z900 model it was bullet proof, handled poorly and went like a shell but again some time later got made into 1000cc version it was probably better as the frame didn't break at the headstem!
Harley-Ferguson sorry Davidson made absolutely horrible bikes after the Knucklehead VL models the Panhead had a rigid frame till 1958 and it didn't handle, didn't go, and didn't stop, chuck in unreliable and you got the set. Eventually the Shovelhead arrived the swing arm frame helped but it was as bad,the Sportster was fragile badly machined and weak in the gearbox the British twins laid them waste. The Evolution engine saved them after the buy back from AMF which made some interesting Italian-American singles.
What about the fifties super bike the Vincent out of the 11,000 plus models that were made they were on a high except they were as dearer than a car and eventually succumbed to full fairings in 1954 and got slower as well and with quality control problems which made them cease production just before Christmas 1955
So dear reader this proves that sometimes it pays to buy the early version and other times the later, many a customer has looked at the latest and sheepishly asked the salesman if he has any older models left myself included, so buy when you think you want that bike and don't wait.
Phil Pilgrim 2015